Growing in Grace

My life has been in upheaval quite a bit so far this summer. (And it’s only nearing the end of June!) My goal has been to just go with it and keep taking the next step. And it’s worked. I’m actually starting to thrive off the busier, all-over-the-place-ness that is my schedule. It seems like God is teaching me a million things right now, but a big one is being willing to step out and into what He wants for me. That often means leaving my anxiety behind/ acting in spite of it. One of the ways my anxiety manifests itself is in relation to other people. I tend to keep my distance and not engage because of that. If people come to me, that is usually okay because I actually genuinely love people a lot.

Sharing the love of Jesus is hard when fear keeps you from striking up conversations ¬†with your co-workers or walking across the room to a group of people. Unlike other times in my life, right now, this is a battle worth fighting. I know so many people who are great at reaching out to people and making them feel accepted. I’ve benefited from this on many, many occasions. It is one of the best feelings- to be drawn out and have someone be interested in you and your life! I want to offer that gift to the people I come into contact with. (Er, the ones I could be coming into contact with…)

Walls must come down; having open hands is necessary. As a Christian, I have received love, grace, and forgiveness, and still do receive them daily. Why would I feel the need to protect myself when I belong to God? Letting what had been given to me flow freely to others is the only way to actually experience the freedom those gifts were meant to give.

As the person who likes to stand back and observe, this all means I need to step forward and be the one who speaks, pursues relationships, and acts kindly toward others. It means I stop worrying about what someone will think of me if I say or do something. It means that I start acting more and observing a little less. It means that I look beyond myself in action taken and words spoken.

Yet, I cannot count how many times I have done the opposite when the opportunity arose. I have been glued to the ground, unable to open my mouth, left conversations unfinished, and far too often have not even been able to make eye contact with people. All because of my anxiety. It’s so frustrating and heaps shame on me. In those moments, I have to accept the grace to not engage just as readily as I would need to accept the grace to overcome and engage. I have to take to heart God’s power and love in a whole new way just so I don’t drown in guilt. Second, third, and hundreth chances are the way God rolls, though, because He’s not keeping track. Thank goodness!

Goodbye Shame, Goodbye Guilt

It hit me the other day just how much our society likes to measure us up. It starts with school. Each assignment is measured according to a number and letter system. The higher the number, or lower the letter, the better. It seems like a lot of life includes some sort of grading system like this. It becomes part of our mindset to try to perform well and wonder how we measure up. When we start viewing God as though He’s grading us, though, things go awry.

A big part of why we see God like this is because we focus so little on the relationship, and instead, end up focusing on the action part of faith. We do all the right things because we’re supposed. But living as though God were waiting for us to mess up so He could be mad at us is not good motivation for living a moral life.

In any healthy relationship, the people involved feel free to be themselves. The same thing applies to a relationship with God. He won’t hate you if you mess up, but He will convict and encourage you toward real holy change. Patience is an incredible attribute of God we can easily forget about.

We will mess up; we will sin. This is a fact, not something any one of us can defy with the most meticulous work. “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8b) If that isn’t encouraging- that we are loved even when we’re at our worst- than I don’t know what is.

You and me will never be “too far gone” to approach the throne of grace. Any moment is a good moment to talk to God. And maybe by realizing His forgiveness and love for us, we can begin to let that define how we see ourselves.

It is the enemy who wants to destroy us with guilt and shame and fear; God brings peace and joy and love. That is the kind of relationship and life we are offered.

Who’s Visiting the Mental Realm

What would Jesus do? A decade or so ago this catch phrase was popular, but now it’s considered cliche. Often we subconsciously ask, “What would mom do in this situation?” or “What would dad do?” or “What would my friend do?” or even, “What would a certain celebrity or leader do?” Sometimes this can be a good thing, especially if they are seeking after Jesus or living in a healthy manor. As a daily habit, though, it can take us off track. I think it’s important to ask who or what inhabits our mind. Because who and what we think about will shape who we become.

So who do you want to become like? Aspiring to have certain qualities we see in another person can be a good thing. We must be careful not to place a person on a pedastool and expect them to be perfect, though. In the end, that only leads to hurt.

I have to remind myself that Jesus is my main example. I’ve begun reading ‘The Practice of the Presence of God’ which documents the thoughts and discoveries of Brother Lawrence. As you can probably guess by the title, he was very good at inviting God into his brain-space.

“When outward business diverted him a little from the thought of God, a fresh remembrance coming from God invested his soul, and so inflamed and transported him that it was difficult for him to contain himself.” (‘The Practice of the Presence of God’)

In a letter he wrote, Brother Lawrence freely admitted that the first few years of striving to think of God often was extremely difficult and disheartening. Yet, it had become such a valuable part of his relationship with God and he recommended the habit to all he came into contact with. I think it’s encouraging to know that the mental realm doesn’t have to be won by tomorrow, nor does failure after failure have to make us quit. There is hope for the kind of closeness with God that Brother Lawrence experienced. There is hope that our minds will be filled with good, positive things. There is always hope. So strive towards that hope set before you!

Paul talked about “dying” in suffering like Christ so, “by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” (Philippians 3:8-11) The road to freedom is marked by this dying; a relationship with God will inevitably come with suffering. Yet, we are not to run from hardship. The battle of the mind is pivotal and we can’t run from the struggle.

“Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.” (Philippians 3:12)

66. Into the Unknown

It’s always an odd feeling when life, or God, leads you to someplace you weren’t expecting to visit. This is where I find myself right now. God is transforming my mind and bringing me healing in ways that are truly impossible, at least impossible on my own strength. (Trust me, I have tried to “fix” myself in these ways many a time..) It’s so strange to finally be in the transition period and yet not be the initiator of it; so amazing and scary to feel and see these changes and new patterns of thought.

The “scary” got a lot bigger than the “amazing” this week, though. Honestly, there was one day when I would just randomly start crying over seemingly little things. Except that they represented this new place God is taking me, so they were actually really big things to me.

At the end of that emotional day, the Holy Spirit gently reminded me that I can trust my Father. It’s not me against the world, nor me on a journey to miserableness by myself. Nope. It’s me traveling the road to wholeness with a good, good Father and Friend. (Having great friends and family helps a whole lot too.)

I was reminded of Jeremiah 29:11: “For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Isn’t it great when the clich√© verses take on whole new meaning!? Well, in my unsureness, this verse became a rock of truth.

I don’t know what the next months, or even the next few days, will look like on this transition journey. That’s an acute fact right now. But really, do any of us really know what the next days will hold? That’s why the Bible encourages us to say, “If the Lord wills it, we will do _______.” Keeping hold of the promises that God has a good plan and that He works all things together for the good of those who love Him will make every weird day and odd “I don’t know what’s going on” feeling much easier to roll with.

59. A Righteous Ruler’s Promise

Is it really already Thursday? I feel like that will be my thought most weeks over the next semester… it’s just what college does to you. Time starts to fly, and you’re along for the crazy ride.

My goal is to keep up with this blog, posting every week. But I’m saying sorry in advance, because I’m sure I’ll miss posting at least once.

“Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” – Isaiah 41:10

When I read this verse at the beginning of the week, it struck me that it’s so hard to remember and believe the promises of God. They are just so crazy good! In real life, if something sounds too good to be true, it’s because it is. Another verse helped me to take this particular promise to heart as I started school this week.

“But to the Son he says, ‘Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, the scepter of uprightness is the scepter of your kingdom.” – Hebrews 1:8

I see this mental image of God giving Jesus a throne, a kingdom, and it’s defining feature is uprightness, righteousness. The one who came, died, and rose again; the perfect one who is now seen by God instead of sinful me. That’s the God I can see keeping the promise to uphold, be with me, and provide strength. That’s the God I can see fulfilling those words.

College has been a source of anxiety and panic in the past, so after a year off, I was nervous about starting this semester. It’s cool to see how God has set up “guardrails” this week to stop me from going too far into that anxiety, though. He was with me every moment and I’m slowly getting used to that idea. God wants to work in our lives/ bring His righteous kingdom: we just have to leave room for Him.

55. Despite Cares of This World

The past couple of weeks I’ve been living in the land of impossible. Thing after thing that usually cause me great anxiety have come my way, much of it healthcare related. It’s a miracle that I haven’t had a full blown panic attack, but anxiety has been building. At times of small, slowly mounting anxiety, verses such as, “Do not be anxious about anything” don’t often help. The Holy Spirit knows exactly what the heart needs, though. I found Jesus’ words on the end times and this warning:

“But take heed to yourselves, least your hearts be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness, and cares of this life, and that Day come on you unexpectedly. For it will come as a snare on all those who dwell on the face of the whole earth. Watch therefore, and pray always that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man.” Luke 21:34-36

In their own way, these verses can cause anxiety. Going back a few lines before these, you find Jesus describing all the things which will transpire leading up to His second coming. It scary stuff! Then He concluded the list with, “Now when these things begin to happen, look up and lift your heads, because you’re redemption draws near.” (Luke 21:28)

When our focus is on Jesus coming back, it’s easier to not be dragged down by the cares life. Looking back, will the fact that I got stuck with a needle to have blood drawn matter? Will the time I eat dinner matter? I doubt it. Having a consistent conversation going with God helps us to focus on Jesus instead of _______.

48. The Heart of the Father

Two quotes that I’ve heard countless times in church are, “Being a Jesus follower is hard” and “Doing what God asks of you will be a sacrifice.” I believe these statements are true. There is another part of the equation though.

Obedience will not always be preceded by emotion, but non-the-less it is the basis for many actions, including generosity and meaningful prayer. If emotion has no part, these things quickly become simply religious exercises. I think a lot of Christians disconnect from their emotions.

On one hand, compassion can overflow to the point of wanting to beg every person you meet to believe in Jesus. That would qualify us as crazy.

Another reason we can abandon emotions is because they can, and will, lead us wrong. If we shut them down, there’s no chance of them controlling our actions.

God wired us to feel emotion for a reason, though. If we numb ourselves to them, we take away part of what it means to be human. Even more than taking away from our humanness though, a lack of emotion subtracts from our relationships. Every relationship is effected when we don’t feel, including our relationship with God.

When God asks us to do something hard or to make a sacrifice, it’s for our ultimate happiness. Love is the motivation for the direction/ command. For us to see this in the moment, God has to open the eyes of our heart. This connects us not only to what God is doing and leading us to do, but also allows us to feel the heart of God.

So yes, being a Jesus follower is hard. But when the eyes of our heart are open we will feel God’s love and encouragement as we take each step.